I’ve always thought about whether or not it is better to know that it’s the last time you do something, or to be left blissfully unaware. There are some situations where we know it’s the last time and although that can feel like an opportunity to make the most of something it also feels likes heaps of pressure. I’m not necessarily referring to the big milestone type events in our lives, I’m talking about the everyday little things, the simple everyday situations, especially the ones that change as we get older. The very last time you read your child a book before bed. The last time you helped your grandmother set the table. The last time your mom or dad tucked you into your bed. Your child won’t ask you to pick them up and then say “Make this one count because I’m getting bigger and you won’t be able to pick me up or carry me anymore!” And what if they did? What if when they are whining and crying and you are exhausted but they whisper in your ear that this will be the very last time they would ask you to pick them up? What if we knew it was the last time we did something and we altered it in some way? It’s this gentle flow of routine that makes these common everyday interactions feel like they are slipping through our fingers without us even realizing it.
If we knew it was the last we might change the narrative, accidentally messing up the very memory we are trying so hard to savor. Have you ever had a store or restaurant you love suddenly close? You didn’t know the last time you were there was the last time. Would you have ordered something different? Would you have stayed longer than usual? Regret is a crappy and confusing feeling because we are regretting something we didn’t do, or that maybe we did do, but we have no crystal ball to tell us how the outcome would be different. Life is not a “Choose Your Own Adventure Book.” I loved those books but I compulsively had to read through every option, never satisfied with sticking with the one I chose. I recently asked my husband about these books and he said he loved reading them but he was the type of person who picked his choice and moved on, never looking back at the other options. I looked at him as if he was a complete freak and he could not believe I would take the time to read through all the other scenarios. Worth noting, this is how my husband lives his life. He makes his decisions confidently and moves on, never looking back. Meanwhile I am that person that will agonize over the menu when we go out to eat. Even if I like what I chose when the food arrives I am still that weirdo that looks around at other peoples’ entrees and think “Maybe I should have had the omelet.”
Of course I overthink and over analyze more than just my breakfast choices. I can get caught up making too big of a deal about the significance everyday things. The last school lunch I packed, the last time we played hide and seek, the last time they were in a stroller. When singled out these moments aren’t that special on their own, it’s the frequency we do them that creates the threads we use to weave a quilt of our life story, into a quilt that is never really finished. Even in the end of our lives the memories and routines we created will continue to be woven into our children’s lives and all of those around us. In the what I never thought of as profound words of that famous song from Semisonic, the one that was always played at the end of the night in bar when I was in my 20s, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” We are so very lucky to be able to keep that quilt going, the different patches and colors representing no distinct pattern but rather a reflection of how complicated our lives can be.
My parents are getting ready to sell their beach house. For a myriad of reasons it’s the right time, and as much as it hurts and feels sad I know in my gut that this is the time. Usually we stumble in there in waves of kids and dogs and all different times. We leave the same way, double checking that beds are made, towels are washed and the dog hair cleaned up. But even when we are there it’s a whirlwind of people coming and going, racing to get into the shower first, rinsing the sand off from our toes, and running back out the door to the next thing. Sports schedules, teenagers that want to see their friends, and work obligations have made it hard for us to all be there at the same time and to be present in the moment. This past labor day weekend was a little different. My sister and I gathered our kids on the stairs that we have run up and down for the last 15 years. We’ve never taken a photo of the cousins on the steps. This time we did. It was bittersweet. They are getting older and so are we. We had 15 years to make this an annual photo and yet this is our first and our last time. This is an example of one of those of one of those times where I was grateful to have control of the narrative, to know that it was the last time they would all be sitting there together at the end of the summer, to be present in the moment. Because I knew this I savored it, I appreciated it, capturing it with a photo in a night where normally we would all be running around in different directions. It was special and we felt it, and I felt gratitude for the memories we made that can’t ever be sold. My godmother Nina put it perfectly when she said it’s time to make new memories.
I’m well aware that with these last times will come a whole new slew of firsts. Just like moving out of home there is that first sleep in your new home. The first time you drop you take your drop your child off at college. I know I am supposed to look forward to this my this one is a toughie. This is our daughter’s senior year of high school. It’s filled with lots of conscious “lasts”, the last first day of high school, the last time she drives with her brother to school (she probably won’t miss that one too much! ), the last time she comes home from school after a tough day and I am physically standing there to give her a hug. I’m not the first person to have a child leave home for college and I’m not the last, but damn it hurts. It’s like pulling off a bandaid very, very, slowly. You have a whole year to think about it and with it the pressure of trying to make this year everything you want it to be remembered as. I have found myself in T.J. Maxx looking at various sizes, colors and materials of decorative pumpkins and getting ready to buy all of them to suddenly make my house have the best damn fall ever. Our daughter loves fall and when the house is decorated for each season. And I am one of those moms who still has Christmas pine soap in the powder room and forgets to change the wreath on the door. I don’t rotate out pumpkins for ghosts for nutcrackers and then for hearts and then bunnies for each season. I so appreciate it in other people’s homes but I just never have put the effort into my own. And now, here I am, with 17 years under my belt to have the opportunity to decorate for Fall and I suddenly decide that I want to spend hundreds of dollars on seasonal decor to try and create some perfect happy home memory for my daughter’s last fall at home. It’s ridiculous and insane and yet I am consumed with making this the best year of her life. It’s also impossible.
Plus the bandaid is starting to get pulled, just as it should. If you have ever been pregnant you remember that ninth month and the cruel fact that although you should be getting tons of sleep before the baby arrives, you are helplessly up almost every hour with a bladder reduced the size of a grape under the pressure of an anvil. It only occurred to me much later after my children were born that this is actually nature’s way of preparing us for getting up throughout the night at all hours and learning how to go back to sleep in less than 1 minute anywhere at anytime. It’s a crash course in how to function without a solid 8 hours and it’s exactly why when our children are older we look at a new mom and think “Oh My Goodness, that looks exhausting and I could never do that again.” We were being groomed, getting prepared, we weren’t just nesting the baby nursery we were nesting ourselves physically and mentally.
One of my best friends warned me about this slow bandaid pull, saying it actually helps the leaving to not feel so abrupt. It happened quickly to me these past few months. Our daughter got her license, and then a job, and then school started and then she got a second job. Suddenly she was not home for these potentially perfect family dinners I was imagining us having and I found myself adjusting to the fact that she was around the house a lot less. If she wasn’t working she was in her room doing homework or going out with her friends, all normal stuff. Part of me wanted to sit on the floor of her room and just stare at her while she did her homework and even though I’m weird enough to try, it’s not happening. I can’t stop working and living my normal life just to make myself available whenever she is free. She’s becoming an adult, her own person and I think that’s what’s so bittersweet. We have finally gotten through a lot of that teenage bickering and she’s become like a best friend. She’s someone I prefer to hang out with over lots of other people and there’s an ease to being around each other. She’s smart, interesting and funny. I’m loving watching her come into her own as she creates this life at work and with friends that is independent of us at home. I really like her company and now she will be leaving.
I know this is what we are supposed to do. I’ve read all the grown and flown and I’ve heard all the wonderful things that I get to look forward to her as she starts into adulthood. But’s it’s hard and I’m sad. I have no control over what memories she has of growing up in our home. I can buy every damn pumpkin out there this year and it won’t change that she will probably remember I had a surplus of Christmas soap. I can hope that that memory will make her smile and laugh. I can’t change the past or rewrite the narrative or dwell on regrets. I can be present. I can listen. I can try and make this memorable for me but I can’t rebuild the nest, I can only make sure she has all she needs to fly. The nest will still be here and it always will.